Life as a Daughter of Agent Orange, Part 7

A Chemically-Forced Submission in a Self-Absorbed World

Photography taken by Author

Somehow it does not feel as if it has been a week since I last posted. A lot has gone on and frankly, I needed a breather from travelling back through my own timeline — as in Doctor Who, travelling one's own timeline is a dangerous game. Remembering all that I have for this story has stirred up feelings I never thought I would feel again. This past week I have been angry with my dad as I have not been in several years, probably since I was in Texas. 

Speaking of, that is where this part takes flight. Aside from living in England for six months, this was my first time away from home — really away since I was sharing an apartment with three other classmates. I had never shared a living space with someone outside of family and I do not think I ever really got the hang of it. It was wonderful to once again be out from under the oppressive cloud of my dad, but little did I know this nine-month program was going to be one of the most trying times of my life. Within the first two months, I had a violent detox from all the negativity I had left at home; I broke down in one of the minister's offices (since this was a Bible school) and explained as much as I could in between sobs. I had so much anger in me and until that moment, had never had a chance to let it leave me. I was angry because my dad did not care enough about me to make healthy choices; angry because of how he treated my mom and how, at times, she took it; angry because I would stand up against his intolerance and abuse and then be condemned as "irresponsible", "lazy", and "trouble". I knew I was none of those things, but that is all he saw in me, and to this day I think he still thinks that. One of the outcomes of him being him is that I relieve emotional stress by the form of OCD where one pulls hair; mine is centralized to my legs. I had a classmate ask me what was wrong with my legs, because they are scarred after years of pulling, and with others around, there was no way I could speak the truth — I said it happened by shaving. It is the physical side effect of years of torment that I am most ashamed of and have never shared with anyone outside of my immediate circle of women friends. I thought about telling someone when I was 15, but I was too scared; not that I am not scared now, but it is time to own what has happened to me and the psychological damage that has been done. That was just another number on the long list of things I had in my mind while I cried in that minister's office. 

Breaking down like that was the first step to letting go and turning down the path to growing into the young woman I desired to be. It was amazing to spend eight hours a day engrossed in the Bible; I learned so many things that were applicable to my life and although they were not things that can be seen (actions), those changes were internal. Being isolated from others my age and religion for so long and suddenly being around nearly 20 students and teachers everyday was a bit of an adjustment for me. The positive vibes from everyone were weird since I was so used to being surrounded by negativity; to be frank, I did not have an easy time trusting some of the nicest of my classmates because I thought there was no way they could be that genuine. I have never been so glad to be wrong — even though the negativity I had within me from my dad nearly destroyed the beginning of some amazing friendships, I was still able to correct my wrongs and move forward. 

As the months went along, I began to become more tense and edgy. At first I thought (at the time, mind you), it was because of some personal issues I was having with a roommate, but after a few years of reflection, it was because each passing day brought me closer to the time when I was going to have to move back home. I let my hidden fear create mountains out of mole hills and my own toxicity emerged by what I perceived was the toxicity of another. I nearly ruined the rest of the friendships I had with my roommates and to this day I still have nudges of guilt over my behavior. The worst was about a month before the program was going to end. Instead of going directly to the person with whom I perceived to have an issue, I sought advise from others — which is how I have always handled things with my dad. First of all, that was a mistake; always go directly to the person right off the bat. Secondly, I made a mess of everything in my apartment by dealing with her as I would have my dad. It got to the point where I lost it. Thankfully, my younger sister was there when I did; we had to put our dog down the previous week and I had flown home for that not knowing my sister was planning on surprising me by flying down the week after — she kept her flight and was there to take care of me because I was sick from crying so much. 

Towards the latter part of her visit, I broke down. I do not remember what was the final trigger (at the time), but I could not handle anything else. My roommates and I were having a guided discussion about one of the things that was bothering me and I had a major anxiety attack. I have never felt that way before and I was terrified, which did not help the attack any. My sister gave me a bottle of lavender essential oil to breathe in as I put my head between my legs, but nothing worked. I kept getting worse and soon I could not keep a breath; I knew if it got any worse I was going to have to go the the ER. Thankfully, one of the ministers who taught us was giving a Bible study nearby and the housing director offered to call him to see if he could come over an anoint me. I was completely fine with that even though I hated the thought of interrupting a Bible study because I could not deal with my stress. While waiting for the minister to come over, I was trying to identify the root cause of my attack and came to find it was the thought of going home to all the negativity that surrounded dad. Having my sister there while I was having issues with my roommate was the trigger because she was the visual representation of home. Thankfully, I did not have to go to the ER because of God's mercy and grace, but it was a tough lesson to have gone through. 

I did all I could to fix things, but sometimes something is broken so badly it cannot go back to what it was. It was then that I realized I was becoming more like my dad the closer the end of the program came. I was so scared of what I was allowing myself to become and scared of what awaited me at home that all I could do was pray my anger and fear would go away. I came to recognize that in order to move forward in life, one has to acknowledge their feelings (all of them), accept them, nurture the ones that are inspiring and toss the ones that are mud. That was the first turning point of my mid-20's and unfortunately it happened after I hurt others. When I came home, I noticed my mom was different than when I left; she was more sure of herself and stronger. She stood tall for the first time since her retirement and even though she still was fighting the guilt of finally knowing what it was like for my sister and I to grow up with dad around, she was moving forward as well. I was so happy and relieved to see her growth; it gave me hope that as the women of the house, my sister, mom, and I could withstand the gathering storm that was soon to shake our lives.

Thank you for reading! Please stay tuned for part 8. 

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Life as a Daughter of Agent Orange, Part 7
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